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This 1845 [12th] edition of the third of Dickens’ Christmas books was inscribed to “Thomas Powell from Charles Dickens September Fourth 1845”. At the time of the gift, Powell was an employee of the publisher Thomas Chapman and a colleague of Dickens’ younger brother, Augustus, but in 1846 he was discovered to be embezzling very large sums of money from the firm.

Chapman showed what was to prove undeserved sympathy and declined to press charges when Powell apparently tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of laudanum, but in 1848 Powell was again detected in forgery. This time he feigned madness and for a while was detained at a lunatic asylum in Hoxton.

On his release Powell moved to America, where, to further quote my principal source*, “he earned his living as a journalist and writer of cheap books” and used his former acquaintanceship with the Dickens family to produce a distinctly unflattering life of the writer that was published in 1849 in his Living Authors of England and brought to a wider audience by American newspapers. In this account Powell branded Dickens a snob and parvenu, and had the temerity to suggest that Dickens had based the character of Mr Dombey on Thomas Chapman himself.

Dickens denounced Powell as a liar and forwarded documents to America that were intended to prove his case – among them a pamphlet in which he countered the charges. Powell’s response was to threaten to sue Dickens for $10,000 and this unwanted experience of litigation with a man he viewed as an embezzler, forger and confidence man may well have coloured Dickens’ later writing.

I do not have access to the American study mentioned in the opening paragraph of this report, but a publisher’s announcement for the book indicates that the authors argue that the character of Uriah Heep in David Copperfield, the novel that Dickens was writing at the time, may have been influenced by his experiences with Powell, and that further echoes of this interlude may be seen in the interminable Jarndyce case in Bleak House. A splendid association copy of The Chimes, it sold at £9200 to Dickens specialist Brian Lake of Jarndyce.

Also seen in the Sworders sale was an album of letters and signatures that brought a bid of £1950. Among the former were letters in the hands of Thackeray and Kipling as well as several politicians, among them Disraeli, Campbell-Bannerman, Balfour and Joseph Chamberlain, while those represented by signatures only included Byron, Wordsworth, Tennyson and Gladstone.
* Dickens by Peter Ackroyd (1990).